Years ago I went through a divorce that changed my family completely. Not only did we separate to different homes but eventually my kids’ dad lost his rights and ability to share in their lives and because of that it’s been years since they’ve seen him.
Most days, this is our “norm.” They have gotten used to how our family has changed and what our dynamic has become without their dad as someone to rely on, confide in or spend time with. Most days, it seems as if they have done their processing of this and have moved on to acceptance. This is our family now. It’s different and that’s ok.
Then days like Father’s Day come around and my kids get thrown into a day of mourning. They are reminded of all of the parts of a family that they used to have but no longer do. They spend the day sullen and wondering where he is, what he is doing, and if he is thinking of them, too. They pull out piles of paper and crayons, glitter and tape and construct some homemade, heartfelt cards in hopes that one day, soon, they may see him again and be able to show him that on days like this, they were thinking of him.
But the cards sit in a corner in the living room. Days pass, and then months. And eventually, once I know that they have moved on from the hurt of that day, I package them up and put them into a box in the attic with the rest of their hand printed and misspelled cards made out to their dad with care. So they know that they can retrieve them whenever the time comes … if ever the time does come.
Am I doing my kids a disservice by allowing them to create these shows of affection for a man who hasn’t bothered to call or write in over a year? Who hasn’t seen their faces in so long that they’ve had 5 birthday’s between them that he hasn’t been a part of? A man who doesn’t even know that one of our children has completely transformed from the female gender he was assigned at birth into a little boy, because he’s since come out as transgender. He hasn’t seen my youngest do a perfect cartwheel or my oldest pitch a no-hitter. He doesn’t even know what team they are on or what sports they play. He isn’t aware that my oldest is “gifted,” my middle is struggling, my youngest is affectionate and sweet. He doesn’t KNOW any of these things and yet they still want to share these days dedicated to him WITH him because, he’s their dad.
I don’t know what’s “right” in this situation. I never anticipated that when I celebrated our first Father’s Day as a family that one day this day would be just the opposite of a day of celebration, but more of a yearly remembrance and memorial service for the life they’ve lost. I hadn’t expected on our very first Father’s Day that this person my first child and I were honoring as a beacon in our family would one day be totally removed from us and living a different life. One that was completely separate from ours.
I wasn’t prepared for the first Father’s Day without him. I didn’t expect my young kids to feel compelled to put their hurt aside, break out the crayons, and open their hearts so deeply despite every pain they felt. I wouldn’t have imagined they would have been so thoughtful and proud to take time out of their day to create a loving gestures for someone that seemed to not give them the same consideration and time in return.
But, after our years of experiencing this day together, I know now that come Sunday while we celebrate with my dad, the one who has become like a stand-in for the dad they once knew, my kids will ask me to make their dad a card. Cards that will end up in the corner of my living room. Cards and pictures that will be filled with hand prints and glitter, with little hearts and their names adoringly scribbled on all sides with the words “I love you” plastered on the front. Cards that will end up curled up around the edges and withered with age and stains before enough time has passed that I can safely package them up into a bin in the attic with the rest.
I wasn’t prepared for the first one, but this time I’m ready with extra markers… and glitter.
When I brought children into this world, I promised myself, as a parent that I would be their biggest champion in life.
I vowed to be the shoulder to cry, the hand to feed, the kisser of boo-boos, the teller of stories, and the one they could rely on. Always. No matter what.
When my son was only 4 he revealed to me that he is trans. He confided in me that he was living life as a girl, because that’s what he was told he was, but inside…. inside he was someone else. He felt different, he felt wrong. Like his brain and his body didn’t match up but he couldn’t put his finger on it, exactly. At least not until he started communicating all of this to me and we sought help, found professionals and had more and more conversations. It became abundantly clear to me rather fast that my (then) daughter was, in actuality, my trans son.
And he needed my acceptance and support more than anything else.
Learning this “secret” of his didn’t change my role as a parent or an advocate, if anything it magnified it exponentially because now I was the one holding his hand while he navigated where to go from here. Helping him decide on big decisions like hair cuts, a name, pronouns, and who and how to tell his secret to.
Being young, he was off and running once he expressed his true self to me and understood that my love for him didn’t change. He was telling people, confident, and open.
I, on the other hand, was scared.
I was worried about other’s reactions, how I was going to explain this and how I would defend him, because I knew it was inevitable that I would be doing more defending than anything.
I was worried about what kind of parent I was going to look like, despite knowing that the kind of parent I was is exactly who I wanted to be all along.
As things progressed in their natural way for him, I found it harder and harder to find support for myself. I turned to complete strangers to share openly with and they welcomed me with open arms. They became my solace, a group of like-minded parents with similar kids who all just wanted the same thing, to love, support, accept their kids and shield them as much as humanly possible from the terrors of the world.
It was great to have this network to turn to, but it was also very lonely and isolating that the only way I found “my people” was in a cyber world. A world of supporters that didn’t exist in real life.
In real life, things were much different.
I can count on one hand how many close family and friends I can turn to and OPENLY discuss my son. Using the correct language and pronouns, using his chosen name, and talking as if life is absolutely normal, as it should be.
And then… there is the rest of my “support”. My family that I love more than anything in the world, but with whom I have to tread carefully. I have to consider the words I use very carefully.
I have three children. And I can speak freely about two of them. But one of them, the one that happens to be trans, I have to be very cautious and tread carefully with my words, with my expressions, with my stories. I can’t over share or I offend. I can’t leave him out or it’s obvious. If I address the issue head on it becomes an argument. More defending. More explaining. And very little understanding. Even less acceptance.
It’s become the very large elephant in the room. And it’s an awkward room to live in.
It’s very lonely living as an ally to your trans child. Sometimes you feel like you’re speaking to a brick wall, you’re loaded with an arsenal of research and statistics, knowledge and education and you’re ready, willing, and able to share it with whoever will listen because all you want is for your child to be understood. To be accepted and to be treated and SEEN equally among your others, as the person he is, the person he presents as to everyone else in this world.
You want to be able to go to family functions and not get the side-eye or have people bombard you with their opinions on your life, your child, your decisions because as outsiders, they seem to have all of the answers to your very intimate and personal dilemmas.
Being an ally to a young trans child means being the one who has to have the tough conversations. It also means sometimes being the one who has to decide whether or not to sever relationships.
When you’re your child’s ally, his PARENT, you just want people to start coming around to your side of the fence so you can stop toeing the line and start living life to its fullest, like you’re urging your children to do every moment of every day.
Like you promised yourself you would, until it meant you might lose family if you weren’t careful. So you toe. You tread lightly. And you hope that one day they will come around so you can have your relationships back, your life back, and your family back. In a new, better, more authentic way and without censors and boundaries that went up necessarily but not permanently. At least you hope not.
As an ally, you want to be understood, but you also want people to comprehend WHY you are taking the actions and making the tough decisions you are because of the importance to YOU that your child receives a message of unconditional love. Of immense support. Of nothing other than a message from the champion you promised yourself you would be to your children before you knew what kind of champion or advocate they were going to need.
As an ally of a trans kid, and a member of a family you now feel like you’re on the outer skirts of, you get lonely and you wonder if things will ever get better, but you hear stories from your “friends” in your cyber space and you see it IS possible. They’ve done it. And you can too. You will, eventually. At least that’s what you tell yourself.
Until then, you thrive off of watching your child flourish and grow into their true self and seeing them become more and more the person they were meant to be helps the sun burst through some of the gloomiest of days.
Being an ally means being the one I always wanted to be for my child. The one they could rely on and depend on without question. The person that would be their rock and walk down any rough path right beside them.
Being an ally to my son means the world to me. I just sometimes wish others would see how much love, compassion, and understanding it takes not to deal with him…. he’s easy. But to deal (or not deal) with everyone else.
If this piece resonated with you here are a few others I’ve written about my experiences with parenting a young trans child. Good luck to you, moms and dads. You’re doing great <3
Until it happened to me, I thought I was one of the lucky ones. Miscarriage rate goes down if you’ve already had a healthy pregnancy, right? And what are the odds that with such a BRIGHT pink line, the crazy nausea, the boobs that feel like they’ve been used as punching bags, and the overwhelming emotions that my baby isn’t strong and perfect?
I have had miscarriage happen at different stages of pregnancies. And every time, it hurts just the same. But I find myself minimizing my pain and loss because I never felt my babies kick. I never even heard a heartbeat.
And so I can’t possibly compare my experience to the strong women out there who have seen their babies in their full form on an ultrasound, who have watched the flickering black and white heartbeat and heard the accompanied galloping thumbs through the speakers. I can’t compare my loss to someone who has felt the flutters of a baby kicking, the growing baby that they saw swelling their bellies, and their hearts.
I’m not sure it’s fair to compare my pain that was only in the early stages, a missed period to a few short days after starting to spot. Had I not taken that test, I probably wouldn’t have even known. And that really doesn’t compare to someone who has felt the intense cravings for ice cream and pickles that come along with actual pregnancy.
I feel it wouldn’t be fair to measure my grief of going in to an appointment, to lay on the white sheet, sans pants, to feel the cold goo and the anticipation, followed by the letdown that something was amiss. There isn’t, in fact, any heartbeat to see.
And maybe…. come back in a few weeks. You might get lucky.
Except someone else was “lucky” They heard that heartbeat. Saw the flicker! That’s supposed to mean you can breathe easy now. You can TELL family and friends. You’re so much closer to a healthy baby than I ever was, I can’t measure my grief to that. It’s not the same.
I can’t pretend I know what it’s like to tell a child who knows better about their future sibling and then later have to explain to my innocent child that life is not guaranteed. The brother or sister they were promised was already too much for this world, and went on to another, without saying hello on her way.
Even though I have fantasized what kind of brother my child would be. Pretended I could picture what the two of them would look like next to each other for their first photo shoot. Wondered if they would get along famously, or not. How their first introduction would go, if my son would be a good helper, if my new baby would be a terrible sleeper like my last, or if my delivery would be as easy, or worse.
I start thinking about my versions of loss and how many other, more devastating tragedies there are in this world when it comes to miscarriage and infant loss and I start to think I didn’t have the traumatic experiences that I’ve heard and seen others have and so I can’t really feel as deeply the pain as they do.
Infant loss, miscarriage, in any form is a crushing event. Whether you only just found out or you grew to love the baby you had already begun to bond with. Whether you had only seen a blip on the screen or you had the opportunity to meet your little angel before they found their place somewhere else, it hurts.
And you don’t forget.
As a mom I remember many milestones. As a mom who has experienced loss, I can tell you where I was when it started, what I thought, and where I was when I came to the realization that this baby I had wanted so bad (or maybe hadn’t been sure I wanted yet, because it was such a surprise but I knew I wanted it NOW) was not going to make it into the world. It wasn’t going to make it to my first doctor’s appointment. Or my second.
I’ve spent weeks agonizing, waiting (impatiently) for my final chance to walk into the doctor and show them they were WRONG. That my baby DOES have a heartbeat and it’s perfect and strong. Only to get there and be heartbroken for the second time, even though this time, I knew. I knew all along. But that didn’t stop me from praying for a miracle.
I’m not sure if I can really compare my loss to that of another farther down the road.
I know that my pain was so deep. So raw. That had I been farther along in my pregnancies I’m not sure I would have made it through that kind of loss. Those women are the strongest women I know. My loss… it doesn’t compare.
And yet, it binds us together as a group of women who know a very unique and kinship kind of pain. Who understand what it’s like to love someone you’ve never met with every ounce of your being and to pray with every ounce of energy in your bones that you will get to meet that person. Hold them, kiss them, take them home. Spend one more day. One more year.
Loss is loss. Whether it’s mine or it’s yours, it’s our battle wound to carry. So, as I carry mine I’ll try not to minimize it if you promise not to hide yours.
Another Mom Who Wonders Every Day About The Child That Could Have Been
I get so frustrated as a parent sometimes, as many do. I work hard, sleep very little, feel overwhelmed and emotionally drained much of the time.
And sometimes feel like I’m literally busting my ass to make ends meet to turn around and get snapped at by a tiny human who appears ungrateful, demanding, and entitled in the wake of my roller coaster day to day life.
Being a divorced parent is hard. Being a divorced parent with no co-parent is even harder.
So while I sit here and throw myself a pity party for spending my days making up for the absent parent in my kids’ lives, I really need to take a step back and remember… my kids are going through some serious shit.
I might be the “single” parent in this parenting duo, but they have went from a family with two parents, with a semi-normal home life, to a family with one parent completely removed. Living in the house they grew up in but with a new man, who they don’t trust yet, don’t know as a dad, don’t feel the same love or connection with.
While I’m struggling to navigate life with new dynamics and a new partner they are trying to mourn a dad that is still alive, but they don’t get to see. The parent that used to be the “fun dad” who over exaggerated every event, every holiday, every big moment in their lives and now forgets to call on their birthday.
I feel worn down and complain about money, lack of support, and missing days of work to stay home with sick kids because I am their sole parent. But I forget that while I’m cuddling their feverish body and stressing about being stuck home and not at work that they are remembering what it was like to cuddle their other parent. Or maybe, they are stressing too because enough time has passed and they might not be able to remember it as well as before.
I have to remember that even though I got to experience my son’s amazing belt promotion, my daughter’s first gymnastics team, my older son’s baseball and academic achievements and cheer them all on and beam with pride, they were likely (if even for just a moment) yearning for the person missing. The one who should also be there to congratulate their big accomplishments.
I have to remember that if my kid seems like he doesn’t like any of the gifts he got for his birthday, even if it’s EXACTLY what he asked for, it’s not me. Or the gifts. It’s because the one true gift he wanted isn’t something that can be bought at all.
He told me his one wish this year. That his dad would come back and be the dad he was years ago before his demons took over. And my only saving grace is that someone reminded him days later that if you share your wish, it won’t come true.
My kid may never tell me his wishes again.
While I’m simultaneously making sure that my kids get to continue their sports, have birthday parties, the tooth fairy shows up, Santa is good to them, and everything is *somewhat* normal and like it used to be, they are wondering what magical being can step in and “fix” this.
When I am exhausted and overwhelmed at bedtime and fighting back tears because my kids have heard two songs, been read three books, and had multiple bathroom breaks, there are nights I bet they’re also wishing their mom wasn’t the one ALWAYS putting them to bed.
There is likely a place of common ground in the root of most of our mutual frustration.
My kids have it pretty rough for kids that on the outside appear happy, carefree, friendly, and smart. The guise they wear sometimes fades and the sadness pours out, but sometimes it doesn’t. Most of the time, it doesn’t. At least not in obvious ways.
On those days I forget that they are battling with feelings and thoughts and fears and worries that *most* kids their age don’t experience at such a young age. Or ever. I have to remember that my kids, even if they seem fine, might be really struggling on the inside.
I have to keep in mind that they aren’t aware of their feelings yet and aren’t mature enough to express them and so they manifest in ways that look like ungratefulness, attitude, or anger towards me.
I have to be vigilant that even if my kids are smiling, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a fleeting thought about the thing they all miss most. The PERSON.
I also have to remember that while I’m over here feeling sorry for myself in my position as mom AND dad, that they most likely want a break from me as much as I do from them sometimes, but that break is nowhere in either of our immediate futures. I just have to keep reminding myself…. my kids are going through some serious shit right now.
If this article connects with you here are some others about my relationship struggles:
Halloween. It’s the parent’s ultimate compensation event. Not only do you get to send your kids out in ridiculous garbs, but they’re off begging other people for shit they don’t need for a change. Triumphantly working their little tails off (in a way that any other day would be considered child labor) collecting coveted chocolate covered and fruit flavored escapes that you get to enjoy for months to come. Until the guilt has finally set in and the reality that “bikini season” is once again around the corner and you’ve spent the winter packing it on like snowman.
But it’s “fall y’all”. The season of not giving a f*ck and the perpetual mindset of “this is a problem for spring me”. We are seemingly decades away from the time of year where you’ll start worrying about self-inflicted holiday coping weight, again.
So here we go. If we are going to rage eat our kids candy in the bathroom over our own sobs while they bang on the door begging us to refill the sippy cup we’ve only just handed them on our stumble through the lego minefield on the way in here, shouldn’t we at least do it right?
Have no fear. I’ve compiled a complete list of essentials, so you can be sure that your caloric sweet treat is the ideal choosing for the dumpster-fire parenting situation that life has handed you today.
Reese’s. A go-to for any occasion as it pertains to raising hell-bound heathens. Whether in the shape of a smooshed cupcake or a pumpkin, they are timeless. From a tiny bit of toothpaste in the bathroom sink to sharpie on your brand new leather couch, these are sure to make the blinding rage fade away, if even for a few moments. Stuff the whole damn thing in your mouth because they are big enough to satisfy in one bite so you don’t have to share with your tiny terrorists. But small enough that you (probably) won’t choke.
Snickers. Anything with crunch is perfect for when you’re white-knuckling it through dinner trying to make it to the final stretch of the evening so you can lay down and let your mind race about all things you have no control over. These come in “fun-size” which is really just code for “calm down on the candy, mmmk?” But HEY, you can take this as an opportunity to remind yourself that is IS in fact fun to devour something your kid worked hard for. Karma.
Tootsie Rolls. Save these as a passive aggressive way to get back at your kids on days they have pissed you off just enough, but not entirely to the point of making you lose your ever-loving mind. Nobody likes these little turd shaped nuggets. I use these for when my kids are begging me for candy and just won’t STFU about it already, but they really don’t deserve it after their mini-episodes of insubordination throughout the day. So here you go, little Satan spawn. Chow down. (muahahaha).
Skittles. If you like fruity , like I do, these are great. I have mastered how to silently pour the tiny bags from the front seat of my car into the cup-holder so that I can sneak little morsels to suck on while my kids are screaming for whatever bullshit toy I told them not to bring into the car that they (of course) dropped the second I pulled onto the road. I highly recommend. Starbursts and suckers work for this as well (although harder to hide from the blood sucking sugar cravers). It makes reaching around into the black hole that is my minivan while simultaneously trying to not kill everyone in a fiery car crash that much more enjoyable.
Smarties. It wouldn’t be Halloween if your kid’s buckets weren’t overflowing with these cellophane wrapped chalk wafers. This is the La Croix of candy. The first one or two may be ok, enjoyable even. But after a couple you end up with a sugar burn on your tongue and aren’t even remotely satisfied. You know it, I know it. But our kids, for whatever reason, do not. Save alllll the Smarties. These can be used as bargaining chips in the future to bribe your kids into good behavior when you’re desperately trying to complete a task (like pee in peace) or need them to just get the hell out of your face for a second so you can think.
Your kids are going to get a lot of bullshit candy for Halloween. Circus peanuts, jelly beans, Good N Plenty. All of those are basically compost material. Or a lovely parting gift for the neighbor kid you’re constantly turning away who comes knocking on the door at dinner time every night to see if your kid can “play”.
Some asshole will for SURE hand out those stale popcorn balls that in my house I use as way to showcase my impressive nothin’-but-net shot… right into the garbage can.
If you’re like me, you’ll tell your kids they can’t have any until you’ve carefully investigated it all for dangerous ingredients like razor blades and gluten. Let’s be honest, I’m a lazy (or more accurately, exhausted) parent. If I weren’t sorting through it anyways to find my stash, I’d probably risk it. I’m detail oriented, but only when it comes to stealing from my own children while they’re asleep, what can I say?
Halloween doesn’t have to only be known as the holiday that kick’s off the annual downward spiral of eating like a complete assbag for months on end. Leading you to question what kind of magical elf stowed away in Santa’s trip down your chimney and found it’s way into your unopened drawers to replace all of your spring staples with similar items, just a couple sizes too small.
So, if you’re gonna pilfer candy from your kids, make sure you do it right.
Godspeed, kiddos. Go get your mamas some chocolate.
If you liked this check out some of my other parenting inspired humor pieces: